Future of unused swimming pool in Ross River still unclear, as Yukon gov't does more assessments

The future of the swimming pool in Ross River, Yukon, is still in limbo as the territorial government conducts further assessments on the building's structural integrity.

The indoor pool has sat empty and unused since 2018, and was officially condemned after its last assessment.

Last month, Stacey Hassard, Yukon Party MLA for Ross River, sent the territorial government a petition with 113 signatures, and letters from the community's youth, urging officials to re-open the pool.

On Friday, the Minister of Community Services Richard Mostyn wrote a letter to Hassard in response, saying his department had done necessary upgrades to the pool's mechanical systems.

"However, the pool has not opened given results of a building assessment by [the department of] Highways & Public Works in 2023, which identified further structural safety issues associated with the building's foundation and structure," Mostyn wrote.

He said more assessments will be done this summer to determine whether the pool can be repaired and eventually re-opened.

"Once this is completed scope and timelines will be determined by officials," he wrote.

Mostyn also wrote that government staff are actively working with the community of Ross River to make "other aquatic opportunities" available to the community including a three-day swim camp, as well as possible canoeing and kayaking opportunities closer to the community.

'How frustrated can you get?'

Hassard calls the minister's response disappointing and frustrating.

"How frustrated can you get before you give up?" he said in a recent interview.

Hassard said the reason the town's pool wasn't re-opened in 2023 was because the assessment at that time showed the building was unsafe. He wants to know why another assessment is being done instead of work to address the outstanding issues.

"If they had this assessment work that showed that there's structural problems, why are we not dealing with those issues?" he asked. "I mean, why are we continuing to pay for assessments if we're not going to do anything?"

Hassard said the worst part is that young people in the community are at risk of being let down by the government. He said it was the students at the Ross River school who led this latest push to have their pool reopened.

"What faith does that leave for those students to think that it's worth their time to try and stand up and try and show leadership?" Hassard asked. "Because the government essentially ignores it or just kind of passes it off. To me that's the most frustrating part."

Verna Nukon is the deputy chief of the Ross River Dena Council. She was one of 113 residents to sign a petition to have the pool in Ross River restored or rebuilt.
Verna Nukon is the deputy chief of the Ross River Dena Council. She was one of 113 residents to recently sign a petition to have the pool restored or rebuilt. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

Ross River Dena Council's deputy chief, Verna Nukon, has been advocating to re-open the pool for as long as Hassard has. She said she didn't even know about Mostyn's response until CBC News reached out to her.

Nukon said the community just wants to be kept in the loop.

"It's a really important building in Ross River. We've waited over four years so I'm hoping we don't wait another four years," she said.

Next steps

A spokesperson with the department of Highways and Public Works said the assessment that will happen this summer is going to look at the building's structural integrity but also the ground's condition to determine the next steps, which could include repairing and re-levelling the building or considering other options.

"As part of that assessment we'll have a team of structural and geotechnical engineers to examine the building," said Antoine Goulet. "We need those engineers on site because the recreation centre's location is located on permafrost which presents unique challenges."

Goulet said the assessment should wrap up sometime in August. At that point, Goulet said that potential options and timelines will be determined.

Goulet couldn't speak to what the potential options could be, but said that all options are on the table and it will depend on safety and security for facility users.

"We understand there have been delays opening the pool, but we want to emphasize that we are committed to ensuring that the best and most durable work is done to keep the facility safe, and operational for the long term," he said.

"I can imagine that having conversations with the community about the future of the pool will be a part of the plan moving forward."